Being an African Wild Dog out here is not easy. It is a constant battle against hyenas for food, and avoiding lions is an absolute necessity for survival. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, there are roughly 1400 mature wild dogs in the wild. In the Kruger National Park, it is believed the number of adult wild dogs is between 250-300. To put it in perspective, spotted hyenas number 5000 +. That’s a lot of competition.
As a social animal, Wild Dogs are incredibly successful hunters, utilising their endurance and numbers to flush out, chase down and outflank their target. In fact, they are arguably the most successful predators with 70-80% of hunts ending successfully (compared to 20-30% in lions and leopards). However, as an individual dog the strength of the pack is gone. No one to help defend you, no one to help catch prey. It is an incredibly vulnerable position to be in.
In order to start a new pack though, individual dogs will separate off from their native pack in the search of another ‘disperser’ of the opposite sex. This ensures genetic diversity and strength of the population as a whole.
It would seem though, that the risk is worth it. It allows individuals the opportunity to spread their own genes (as otherwise only the alpha male and female in a pack are able to do so). For a while on Londolozi, we were seeing a lone male dog running all across the reserve. Sightings were infrequent, often separated by days or weeks. In late 2019, we began to see a single pair of dogs relatively frequently. The uniqueness of the male and female duo is that the female is lacking an ear! This makes them very easy to identify.
Against all odds, these two dogs managed to survive alone for months and somehow, across an area of 3,5 million hectares (~8,5 million acres) found each other. On top of this, they have accepted each other and are attempting to start a new pack.
When we first started seeing this pair in mid-to-late 2019, it was just after wild dogs normally give birth. The female was not pregnant, thus we assume that they only met up after the breeding season. Now in early April, she is heavily pregnant. This is incredibly exciting as we have a very real prospect that they may den on Londolozi. Interestingly, it is still about two months before Wild Dogs normally give birth. It looks to us that she may have pups within the next couple of weeks though…
We have been lucky enough to see the pair of dogs five times in the last week. Of the three hunts that we witnessed, all were successful. The male chased down impala over about 800 yards, managing to chase down and successfully catch a young impala each time. The show of stamina and speed was absolutely breathtaking.
Heart-warmingly, in each of the three instances when the male caught the prey, he allowed the female to take the majority of the meat. He would stand guard listening out for any danger while the female got her fill. A tactic to ensure the pups gain the nourishment they need while developing? We witnessed a hyena steal one of the kills from the pair – the male chased the hyena off and allowed the female to finish the remaining scraps.
We can’t help but think of this one-eared female dog and liken her to the success of the Tsalala lioness. Will the pair of dogs manage to find a suitable den? And will they manage to raise pups in this environment as a group of only two dogs? We are eagerly waiting for this story to unfold.